When dystopian fiction feels chillingly real: Hugh Howey’s Wool and climate change

When dystopian fiction feels chillingly real: Book review: Hugh Howey’s Wool and climate change

“The children were playing while Holston climbed to his death; he could hear them squealing as only happy children do. While they thundered about frantically above, Holston took his time, each step methodical and ponderous, as he wound his way around and around the spiral staircase, old boots ringing out on metal treads.”

Thus starts Wool, a dystopian novel of a world that has shrunken into a giant underground silo; where “outside” is dank and dangerous – a toxic wasteland where you are sent to die.

It takes a few pages for the story to build up, but once you understand the shocking reality of the world created by Hugh Howey, you cannot but help feel chilled to the bone.

As I read about Holston and his desire to die; about his wife Alison who uncovered the dirty secret that IT was hiding about the last uprising in the silo; I thought Wool would be a mildly interesting read in a genre that is relatively new to me. I haven’t read much dystopian fiction – though I have watched a lot of dystopian movies – and never have I felt so starkly that this could well be us a few generations down the line.

“In a ruined and hostile landscape, in a future few have been unlucky enough to survive, a community exists in a giant underground silo.

Inside, men and women live an enclosed life full of rules and regulations, secrets and lies.

To live, you must follow the rules. But some don’t. These are the dangerous ones; these are the people who dare to hope and dream, and who infect others with their optimism.

Their punishment is simple and deadly. They are allowed outside.

Jules is one of these people. She may well be the last.”

So, what is this “outside”?

The outside is the world – this world as we know it – except that it is a wasteland of dust tornadoes and air that is so toxic that you cannot survive outside for more than a few moments, and that is with special gear that is designed to prevent the heat and toxins from entering your system.

As I got pulled into the world of the Silo, I couldn’t help but contrast “outside” with the dire situation that we find ourselves in today.

Come winter, the air in Delhi is hazy with smoke and pollutants, with air quality that is regularly marked very hazardous. We’ve had days when the PM 2.5 level has soared to 833.  To put this in perspective, a reading of less than 50 is considered healthy and levels above 300 are considered “hazardous.” To give you even more perspective, the wildfires in California in 2018 left the air hazardous, with a reading of 316, the equivalent of smoking 14 cigarettes a day

In Delhi, we’d call that a good day!

The air we are breathing is already toxic. The soil in which we grow our vegetables and the water we use to irrigate our fields is filled with bacteria and toxins; with growth hormones and chemicals; with DTT and pesticides. Climates across the world are changing, no matter how much the naysayers try to deny it. You only have to look at weather patterns over the last 5–10 years to see the change for yourself. Our oceans are polluted; we’re slowly strangling marine life under the weight of the plastics we keep throwing into our landfills, which make their way into the oceans, which make their way even to the remotest of islands that are uninhabited by human beings

Reading Wool just brought all of these things that I’ve swept to the back of my mind front and center. As I feverishly turned the pages, eager to know what happened to Jules and to the people in her silo, I could not help but wonder…

Is this the world we are going to bequeath to our children…to our children’s children? Because I’m optimistic that way – I don’t think we will see our beautiful earth turned into a toxic wasteland in our lifetime; I don’t think our children will, either. But if we don’t force our governments to make changes in how they tackle climate change and pollution; if we don’t demand increased usage of recyclable packaging material and a drastic reduction in plastic, this may well be the reality for our children or our children’s children.

My only prayer is that I’m being supremely pessimistic. That we will wake up and start making changes starting from our homes, extending into our communities, towns, cities, countries, and the world. Will we? Or are we hurtling towards a silo of our own?

Of course, the book makes no mention of climate change or pollution, and the reason for the silo being built is only alluded to, towards the end. This is, however, a fantastic read, and I will be reading the rest of this trilogy to find out the Silo’s history and its future.

Sounds like a book you may enjoy?

Get it on Amazon

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    • We talk about that quite often too. But where to move, that is the question! And we have no clear answers.

      This is one of the very few dystopian novels I’ve read, and I was pleasantly surprised. I didn’t think I’d enjoy the genre, but his writing is brilliant!

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